Railroad quiet zones coming to South Florida

Hollywood man says train horns wake him up throughout night

By Layron Livingston - Reporter

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Too many choo-choos  are about to drive Larry Brown cuckoo!  

Four years ago, Brown escaped the cold winters of Chicago and moved to South Florida. Last year, he purchased a condominium unit in a building at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Dixie Highway. 

The building sits right across the street from the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks.  

"The railroad tracks didn't bother me," Brown said. "It's just the horns!"

Specifically, at night.  

Brown knew that he'd hear the train horns during the day, but after he moved in, he realized that the train traffic was round-the-clock.

Instead of counting sheep, Brown tallies the trains.

"One time, I counted seven between [midnight] and 6 a.m.," he said.

Brown also has overnight recordings of the trains passing just below his balcony, whistles blaring.  

In Chicago, Brown said there are quiet zones along stretches of railroad that run through residential areas. According the Federal Railroad Administration, quiet zones are sections of rail line where train horns are not sounded when approaching public highway-rail grade crossings. The FRA says train horns may still be used in emergency situations. 

Brown considered his question a simple one.

"Can they do anything about the noise between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.?" he asked.  

The FRA allows localities to establish quiet zones, as long as they mitigate the increased safety risks that come when the horns are silenced. There are also quiet zones already in place along the South Florida Rail corridor. Tri-Rail runs along those tracks.

Brown provided the "Leave it to Layron" team with copies of the letters he mailed to his mayor, commissioner, to the railroad and to his senator. 

"I never got a reply," he said. 

Brown sent a letter to the LITL team to see if we could help him answer his quiet zone question.

Our search led us to Paul Calvaresi, with the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization, who said Brown's quiet zone is coming, and not just outside Brown's condo.

A 24-hour, 26-mile quiet zone stretching all the way through Broward County along the FEC rail line has been in the works for about four years. That's about the time Brightline announced it would be starting passenger service on the FEC railway.

"[With] the addition of 32 more trains a day, the public saw the writings on the wall that there would be more train horns," Calvaresi said.

"This is a great story about a public entity leveraging private investment to fund a quality of life improvement that has been desired for decades," said Ali Soule, director of public affairs with Brightline.

Soule said Brightline not only partnered with the Broward MPO, but also the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization and the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency to implement a quiet zone that stretches all the way from Port Miami and 15th Street in West Palm Beach along Brightline's route.

Federal regulations state that if you do away with the horns, you have to supplement them with another safety measure to make the rail crossings as safe as possible.  

So far, Brightline has replaced dozens of older gate mechanisms with new ones. New LED lights have been installed, along with median and curbs. The company has also restriped every crossing and added signage. New technological upgrades have also been implemented. 

Brightline said additional work is required for its quiet-zone infrastructure. The work is expected to be completed this summer.

Calvaresi said the safety improvements for the corridor are above and beyond the FRA's expectations.

"The final step is filing paperwork with the Federal Railroad Administration to make this quiet zone active," Calvaresi said. 

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